Thilo Sarrazin, a minor German politician on the technocratic wing of the country’s Social Democratic party, has just written what is probably the bestselling political book in postwar Europe (1m copies in hardback and counting). Everyone in Germany knows at least a simplified version of what Germany Abolishes Itself says, and the reaction to the book is helping to drive government policy on minority integration.
The message of the book, in headline form, is that Germany is becoming smaller (thanks to the familiar story of a falling birthrate among native Germans) and stupider (thanks to the fact that educated Germans are having fewer children and the fastest growing part of the population are poorly-integrated Muslim immigrants). That “stupider” is, of course, contested and has led to accusations of a flirtation with eugenics—of which more later.
But Sarrazin is no right-wing populist in the image of Jörg Haider, the late Austrian politician, or even Geert Wilders, the anti-Islamic leader of the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands. Much of the book is a dry compendium of economic and social data. Indeed, I suspect his book is the political equivalent of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time—much purchased but little read. Although controversy has swirled around his comments on group intelligence and the failure of German immigration policy, there is little in German public policy that he does not also take his axe to: welfare policy, education and training policy (apparently Britain now has a much higher proportion of students studying maths, science and technology than Germany), the poverty lobby and more. In fact, it is a meticulously prepared trashing of the liberal pieties of the 1968 generation.
The political and media class’s initial instinct was to denounce the book, and Sarrazin was forced out of his job at the Bundesbank. But as sales started to take off and as the new social media—the bloggers and emailers—lined up overwhelmingly behind Sarrazin, the reaction of political Germany shifted, albeit grudgingly. Chancellor Angela Merkel opportunistically declared the happy-clappy multikulti of the German left to have “failed utterly.” There was even a respectful and self-critical essay in Der Spiegel magazine by a leading liberal, Peter Schneider.
This shift is rather remarkable and it may help to prevent the rise of a serious right-wing force equivalent to France’s National Front. As the book complains, German public debate has, for obvious historical reasons, been more constrained by various kinds of taboos about national culture than any other big European country. As recently as 2000 a leading Christian Democrat politician, Friedrich Merz, had his political career damaged by merely asking that minorities show respect for the law and institutions of the dominant culture (Leitkultur). In the ensuing row the then-president of Germany, Johannes Rau, declared that he was not proud to be German.
Nowhere in Europe is the gap between public opinion and published opinion as wide as in Germany. And nowhere has public policy been more influenced by a 1960s generation, post-national, society-is-to-blame kind of liberalism. Yet this “official” liberalism has never reflected the way people live and think, even in the German chattering classes. When I lived in the country, 20 years ago, it felt far more socially conservative than the similar circles I had come from in London.
Another difference that struck me was the invisibility of the Turks and the other big minorities living in Germany, compared with the relative visibility of Britain’s minorities. I later worked out why this was. There was what Peter Schneider calls an “unholy alliance” between left and right to pretend that Germany did not have an integration issue—especially amongst its Turkish, middle eastern and north African minorities. By 1990, there were more than 2m Turks living in Germany, many of them second and third generation. Yet the Christian Democratic right still refused to accept that some of the “guest workers” who had arrived in the 1950s and 1960s had come to stay—and rejected the idea that Germany was an “immigration country.” This meant that they put no effort or money into turning Turks into Germans. As for the anti-national left, the idea that the exotic Turks should be forced to learn the language of the SS was equally abhorrent. So the mainly Muslim minorities were left alone in their parallel worlds.
I would add my impression after a couple of weeks in Turkey attending Hans-Hermann Hoppe's Property and Freedom Society conference in Bodrum, which is kind of like the Santa Barbara of Turkey, is that Turks don't particularly want to make spectacles of themselves either. In some ways, Turks and Germans seem pretty similar in personality, although Turks don't drink much, so they are less likely to loosen up after a few beers the way introverted Germans sometimes do.
The most obvious personality differences are in neuroticism and conscientiousness. Germans tend to be energetic worrywarts, while Turks are more sedate and easygoing. This makes driving in Turkey less alarming than I had expected. Even though winding country roads in Turkey feature vehicles of wildly different maximum velocities, from S-Class Mercedes to the common sight of a farmer driving a tractor pulling an open wagon holding a dozen middle aged ladies in head scarves, Turks in slower vehicles are pretty good about pulling over to let faster cars go by. It's a polite culture.
On the other hand, there are lots of stray dogs around because they aren't really into worrying and organizing about things like that.
If I were a Turk I'd be proud of being a Turk and would have no problem coming up with reasons why I shouldn't conform to the neurotic culture of the Germans. Who cares about stray dogs?
Add in Islam ...
... The fact that Muslim migrants perform poorly in the context of German society does not, however, support the outlandish claim that they are inherently stupider than Germans or other minorities. Sarrazin does not quite say this but he does assert that their poor performance is dragging down the country’s average ability level—something that could probably be said of most of Europe’s immigrant groups from poor countries, at least for a generation or two.
Turks in Germany are well into a third generation. How's that working out?
Much of the issue is upon whom should the burden of proof be placed. Germany is currently 45 years into a massive social experiment. So far, the vast majority of the evidence is on the side of Sarrazin. Social scientists Detlef Rost and Heiner Rindermann conclude: "As far as the psychological aspects of his book are concerned, they are largely compatible with the state of knowledge in modern psychological research."
Not surprisingly, the political class in Germany thinks, however, that it's all much too soon to tell. Germany should merely wait another 45 years, by which time everybody responsible for the current situation will be beyond blaming. What could be fairer?
Goodhart goes on to repeat the standard embarrassing sophistries about intelligence, which is depressing in reminding us that a good guy like Goodheart is reduced to this in today's anti-intelligence intellectual world. But, he concludes:
Ultimately, Sarrazin’s hard-headedness is a welcome counterpoint to the wishful thinking of the 1968 generation. The former finance minister of Berlin, who looks like a soldier in the Kaiser’s army, is a member of the awkward squad. You can imagine him causing minor riots at liberal Berlin dinner parties. Most of his argument is clear-eyed and well-informed, but he could not resist the provocations both on intelligence and on the nature of the underclass, which he never bothers to define. Yet the fact that his book has been so influential, despite the provocations, marks an important step forward for Germany—not only in facing up to the failures of its past immigration policies, but also in bridging the wide gap between popular opinion and the political class and thus preventing a German Haider.